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Has Jane Jacobs Forever Crippled the Planning Profession?

That’s what University of North Carlina professor and urban planner Thomas Campanella argues in this long, but fascinating overview of what has happned to urban planning in the wake of Jacobs’ influence. The problem, Campagnella writes, is that planners no longer know what their role is in a city, and they lack the power to effect real change. As a result, the “Tools and processes introduced to ensure popular participation ended up reducing the planner’s role to that of umpire or schoolyard monitor. Instead of setting the terms of debate or charting a course of action, planners now seemed content to be facilitators — “mere absorbers of public opinion,” as Alex Krieger put it, “waiting for consensus to build.”

This brings us to the first of the three legacies of the Jacobsian turn: It diminished the disciplinary identity of planning. . . .

The second legacy of the Jacobsian revolution is related to the first: Privileging the grassroots over plannerly authority and expertise meant a loss of professional agency. . . .

The third legacy of the Jacobsian turn is perhaps most troubling of all: the seeming paucity among American planners today of the speculative courage and vision that once distinguished this profession.

Image: “Construction Potentials: Postwar Prospects and Problems, a Basis for Action,” Architectural Record, 1943; prepared by the F.W. Dodge Corporation Committee on Postwar Construction Markets. [Drawing by Julian Archer]

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